Black History Month Spotlight: Reverend Thomas Van Leer
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Reverend Thomas Van Leer has been serving as chaplain for the Minnesota Timberwolves since 1995. In that time, he’s seen everything from franchise triumph to hardship – notably, the tragic passing of Wolves shooting guard Malik Sealy.
Van Leer was encouraged to become the team’s chaplain by former Wolves forward Sam Mitchell. Mitchell and Van Leer met during a game at the Target Center, and Mitchell told Van Leer that the team needed a more mature chaplain.
“So I said, send me a letter, and I’ll come,” Van Leer said to Mitchell.
Shortly after their encounter, Van Leer became the team’s chaplain, and his spiritual guidance proved to be a much-needed asset to the team following the death of Malik Sealy.
Sealy was killed in a car accident on May 20, 2000 by a drunk driver who was driving the wrong way down Highway 100 in St. Louis Park. Sealy was driving home from teammate and best friend Kevin Garnett’s birthday celebration. Sealy’s number has since been retired, and the number 2 jersey hangs on a banner from the Target Center rafters.
“It was a hard time, a very hard time,” Van Leer said. “I don’t think the team had gone through any losses.”
Van Leer was honored as part of the Timberwolves observance of Black History Month, in which one leader is honored at each home game. A minister for more than 50 years, Van Leer has served on numerous civic and religious boards in the Twin Cities. He has authored his autobiography titled, “From Promise Land to the Promise Land!” and has a new book coming out soon, “I’m Just Say’n,” to provide wisdom from his personal experience and many years of ministry service.
Van Leer is currently employed as a recruiter for Summit Academy OIC and is an associate minister of Progressive Baptist Church of St. Paul.
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